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The Wrath Of Seas And Climate Change

An El Niño warming pattern appears to be developing in the Pacific. That tends to squash hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

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Climate Change
Waves from Hurricane Florence pound the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle, N.C. VOA
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The seas are angry this month.

While the remnants of Hurricane Florence soak the Carolinas and Typhoon Mangkhut pounds the Philippines, three more tropical cyclones are spinning in the Western Hemisphere, and one is petering out over Southeast Asia.

Experts say some of this extreme tropical weather is consistent with climate change. But some isn’t. And some is unclear.

It’s unusual to have so many storms happening at once. But not unheard of.

“While it is very busy, this has happened a number of times in the past,” said meteorologist Joel Cline at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mid-September is the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. If there are going to be storms in both hemispheres, Cline said, now is the most likely time.

Climate Change
Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C.. VOA

Stronger storms, and a grain of salt

Scientists are not necessarily expecting more hurricanes with climate change, however.

“A lot of studies actually (show) fewer storms overall,” said NOAA climate scientist Tom Knutson.

“But one thing they also tend to simulate is slightly stronger storms” and a larger proportion of Category 4 or 5 hurricanes, Knutson said. Florence made landfall as a Category 1 storm but started the week as a Category 4.

Knutson and other experts caution that any conclusions linking climate and hurricanes need to be taken with a grain of salt.

“Our period of record is too short to be very confident in these sorts of things,” said University of Miami atmospheric scientist Brian McNoldy.

While reliable temperature records go back more than a century in much of the world, comprehensive data on hurricanes only starts with satellites in the 1980s.

Climate Change
Submerged tombs are seen at a flooded village after heavy rainfall caused by tropical storm Son Tinh in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam. VOA

Extreme rainfall

Scientists are fairly sure that climate change is making extreme rainfall more common. Global warming has raised ocean temperatures, leading to more water evaporating into the atmosphere, and warmer air holds more water.

Florence is expected to dump up to 101 centimeters (40 inches) of rain in some spots, leading to what the National Weather Service calls life-threatening flooding.

One group of researchers has estimated that half of the rain falling in the hurricane’s wettest areas is because of human-caused climate change.

Knutson agrees in principle but can’t vouch for the magnitude.

“We do not yet claim that we have detected this increase in hurricane rainfall rate,” he said.

Climate Change
Homes are surrounded by water from the flooded Brazos River in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, in Freeport, Texas. VOA

He points to earlier studies that blamed climate change for 15 to 20 percent of the devastating rainfall Hurricane Harvey poured on Texas last year.

However, these studies looked at all kinds of rainfall, not just hurricanes, Knutson notes.

“We think that hurricanes are probably behaving like the other types of processes, but we have the best data for extreme precipitation in general,” he explained.

The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has “medium confidence” in the link between climate change and rainfall extremes.

As Florence trudges across the Carolinas, one recent study suggests that hurricanes are moving slower, giving them more time to do their damage.

But that may be natural variation more than climate change.

“I think we’re still early in the game on that one,” Knutson said.

Climate Change
Women walk through a coastal ghost forest believed to be caused by sea level rise on Assateague Island in Virginia. VOA

Rising sea levels

The area where scientists are most confident is sea level rise. Climate change is responsible for three-quarters of the increase in ocean levels, according to the IPCC report.

“Once you have human-caused sea level rise, then all other things being equal, whatever storms you have will create that much higher storm surge,” Knutson said.

That means more erosion and more damage farther on shore.

Whether this hurricane season as a whole will be one for the record books remains to be seen. While the seas are angry at the moment, that may soon change.

Also Read: Tropical Storm Florence: What To Expect?

An El Niño warming pattern appears to be developing in the Pacific. That tends to squash hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

“It appears that perhaps next week will be much more quiet in both basins,” said NOAA’s Joel Cline. “So it does ebb and flow.”

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A Weakened Hurricane Florence Is Still Dangerous

The weather forecasters are predicting an additional 10 to 15 centimeters of rain to fall in hardest hit area in southeastern North Carolina

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Hurricane Florence
A member of the North Carolina Task Force urban search and rescue team wades through a flooded neighborhood looking for residents who stayed behind as Florence continues to dump heavy rain in Fayetteville, N.C. VOA

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says the risk to life is “rising with the angry waters” as what is left of Hurricane Florence dumps tons of rain across the state.

“Wherever you live in North Carolina, be alert for sudden flash floods. Pay attention to the weather warnings and be ready to head for safer ground if you’re asked to evacuate,” Cooper warned residents during Sunday news conference.

“Never drive through flooded roads. Just a few inches (centimeters) of water can wash your car away. And that is already happening out there.”

Florence is now a tropical depression, but continues to dump buckets of rain on parts of the southeastern United States as it slowly creeps toward the mid-Atlantic.

 

Hurricane Florence
Susan Hedgepeth is assisted along with her dog Cooper by members of the U.S. Coast Guard in Lumberton, N.C., Sept. 16, 2018, following flooding from Hurricane Florence. Hedgepeth was moved to higher ground. VOA

 

At least 16 people have been killed. Entire towns are completely cut off by floodwaters. Major highways are covered and more than 700,000 homes have no power. Many parts of North Carolina are under a tornado watch.

Top sustained winds are still a brisk 55 kilometers and one meteorologist says Florence is “still a catastrophic, life-threatening storm.”

 

Hurricane Florence
A pickup is submerged in floodwaters in Lumberton, N.C., Sept. 15, 2018, in the wake of Hurricane Florence. VOA

 

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long told Fox News Sunday “This is going to be a long, frustrating event” for those who have lost their homes or face substantial damage when they eventually are able to return.

It said the storm will continue to “produce heavy and excessive rainfall,” endangering towns and cities in its path.

 

Hurricane Florence
Members of a combined New Bern/Greenville swift water rescue team Brad Johnson, left, and Steve Williams rest after searching for people stranded by floodwaters caused by the tropical storm Florence in New Bern, N.C. VOA

 

One of the hardest hit cities in North Carolina was New Bern, a riverfront city not far from the coastline. Mayor Dana Outlaw said the city, hit by a three-meter storm surge at the height of the storm on Friday, has 4,200 damaged homes.

Across North Carolina, 26,000 people were being housed in 157 shelters after escaping their homes in advance of the flood waters.

 

Hurricane Florence
Floodwaters were rising near businesses in LaGrange, N.C., as Tropical Storm Florence pounded the area. VOA

 

The White House said President Donald Trump would visit the storm-ravaged region in the coming days, but only after it is determined his arrival would not disrupt continuing rescue and recovery efforts.

The hurricane agency said it expects Florence will dump up to another 25 centimeters of rain on central and western North Carolina, on top of the 38 to 50 centimeters that has already fallen on the region. It said the additional rain will “produce catastrophic flash flooding, prolonged significant river flooding, and an elevated risk for landslides in western North Carolina and far southwest Virginia.”

Hurricane Florence
A work truck drives on Hwy 24 as the wind from Hurricane Florence blows palm trees in Swansboro N.C. VOA

Further to the south, the weather forecasters are predicting an additional 10 to 15 centimeters of rain to fall in hardest hit area in southeastern North Carolina, where the storm dumped 75 to 100 centimeters of rain after crashing into the state’s coastline on Friday as a Category 1 hurricane.

Also Read: The Wrath Of Seas And Climate Change

Because the storm virtually stalled after hitting the shoreline, it has dumped record amounts of rain on the mid-Atlantic region, pulling warm water from the ocean. Storm surges, flash flooding and wind have left a path of destruction, with hundreds of thousands of people unable to return to their homes until floodwaters recede, which is expected to take days in many instances. (VOA)